PoHaePa stepped on a landmine in Burma on September 11, 2011. (Photo by Michael Wysocki).
It took me 5 days to make my way from Los Angeles to Mae- Yao National Reserve in Northern Thailand, where FAE lives. I did choose to go through Thailand’s infamous Bangkok, and with all of its scenes, colors, and human indulgence is took me a couple days to actually get out. Bangkok helped me to understand Thailand as a whole, as I am searching to understand how we as humans could possibly let the iconic symbol of Thailand and the father of its forests disappear. In reality, the symbol is becoming an illusion of what once was.
During my mesmerizing thirteen-hour train ride from Bangkok to Lampang, all I could do is try and imagine what was ahead of me. After being immediately surrounded by love with the people at FAE, I wandered around with my camera excited for the moments to come. It was then I realized that trying to imagine this place is like trying to imagine heaven and hell, more like hell turning into heaven for these lucky elephants. My complete attention was fixed on FAE’s newest patient, Po Hae Pa, a twenty-two year old massive bull resting on his side. He had fallen victim of a landmine across the border in Burma a few days ago. I approached him knowing of his battle wound and prepared, so I thought, from reported photos of his injury but I tell you from one heart to another that it still hurts. My first feeling was like my heart sunk into my belly, next I cringed for his pain. Remember the big tsunami that struck southeast Asia in 2004 and there were stories of the captive elephants running for higher ground before it hit. That is because elephant’s feet are so sensitive that they felt the earthquake. They don’t just instinctively head for higher ground, they are taught from their ancestors and remember, that is just one initiative of how complex these creatures are.
When Po Hae Pa sensed my presence, he made his way onto his feet and it was then I saw what a giant he was. He turned faced me directly and literally showed me his wound by sticking out his front left leg and pointing to the exposed flesh of a foot with his trunk. Here it is the essence of FAE hospital and “ The Eyes of Thailand.” The king of the jungle stripped of his dominance and in need of help. Through his deep rumbles, I heard him telling me what happened, and asking me, WHY?